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By CNN Chief Washington Correspondent Jake Tapper and Sherisse Pham
When it comes to questions of whether he would back Hillary Clinton in a 2016 presidential run, Chicago Mayor and former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel was blunt.
“I’m behind Hillary if she runs. And I think she will, but that’s up to her. If she runs, I’m in,” said Emanuel.
As for presidential ambitions for himself, Emanuel says of the prospect, “Absolutely not,” adding, “I have no interest.”
Emanuel was a senior adviser to former President Bill Clinton through most of the 1990s. After stints in the private sector followed by several years as an Illinois Congressman, he returned to the West Wing in 2008, as President Barack Obama’s chief of staff. He left in 2010 to run for Mayor of Chicago.
Being mayor of his hometown “is the greatest job I’ve ever had in my whole life,” said Emanuel.
“I’ve been very fortunate to work for two great presidents. Being mayor is the most fulfilling if you want a life in public life, and the ability to move things,” said Emanuel. “There’s nothing more fulfilling than this.”
Emanuel on criticisms Obama is disengaged
Republicans say Obama is disengaged.
He’s a “bystander President,” the Republican National Committee says.
Emanuel says that’s just wrong.
"That is the furthest from the truth about the President," Emanuel said.
When he was at the White House, Emanuel saw Obama several times day.
"When I'd see him in the morning, he had read all the material presented to him by everybody, and he knew going into the meeting what the assumption of the other side of the argument was ... he had exactly what questions he wanted," said Emanuel.
"So the idea that he’d be disengaged – unless something has happened – I've never seen in the two years of intensity when I was there. I just don’t buy it," said Emanuel.
Asked if there was a chance that aides are shielding Obama from bad news, Emanuel said no, adding that one of Obama's "great strengths" is his solicitation of contrary views, even during dark times.
The claim that Obama is disengaged "is totally contradictory to everything about him," said Emanuel.
Watch Rahm Emanuel: Obama is not disengaged here, or click on the video below
Emanuel was involved in crafting the health care law, and said Obama asked him multiple times for his opinion, and for alternative ways to approach the issue.
"So this doesn't fit, it’s not right, because I know how he is, and I know how he operates," said Emanuel.
Emanuel has earned the nickname “Rahmbo” for his aggressive demeanor; when he was chief of staff, there was accountability – people messed up, they lost their jobs.
“I have all the confidence and all the assurance that heads are rolling, and they’re spinning right now to fix the problem,” said Emanuel.
“That's what the president wants everybody’s energy on: fix the problem. We'll deal with culpability later, because the most important thing you've got to do is get the problem fixed,” said Emanuel.
The GOP needs a Bill Clinton moment
Emanuel does not miss the dysfunction of Washington politics.
“(Do) you get a subscription to the newspaper?” said Emanuel. “What would I miss about that town?"
The 16-day government shutdown earlier this month underscored a tense standoff between tea party Republicans, and the rest of the GOP.
“There's an internal battle in the Republican Party for the heart and soul and the direction of the Republicans,” said Emanuel.
“They need a Bill Clinton moment. Our own party, 10, 20 years ago, faced this and Bill Clinton set a new direction for the Democratic Party,” said Emanuel.
Given the current dysfunction, Emanuel remains pessimistic about the upcoming budget deal.
“All the elites who run around talking about a grand bargain are fools,” said Emanuel. “The political system is not set up for a grand bargain. It's just not.”
On reinventing Chicago
The violence plaguing Chicago is well-known, making national headlines in September when a 3-year-old was shot during a gang-related outburst near a city park.
But the Mayor says the city is also enjoying “vibrancy in economic growth,” and that crime is on the decline.
Emanuel is working with the National Rifle Association for greater gun regulations, pushing for a three-year minimum for gun crimes.
“I need a law on the books that is an actual deterrent, because the one year minimum is not,” said Emanuel.
Washington dysfunction has had a direct effect on efforts aimed at preventing crime. Over the past three years, Chicago lost $11 million in federal money for after school programs, and $7 million for early childhood programs for low-income families because of automatic spending cuts, or sequestration.
Emanuel calls it a “slow motion shut down” on children, and says there is a lack of federal initiatives invested in children.
The Mayor said Chicago figured out a way to keep after-school programs up and running.
“We've increased after school by 25%, more than making up for the federal government walking away, because of the way we funded it and making tough decisions in the budget,” said Emanuel.